Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas started out life as an action-adventure for iOS, which for non-mobile game players made it easy to ignore, or perhaps dismiss as a Zelda clone. But with its arrival on Steam for PC comes a new interest: while Nintendo keeps its strongest series’ exclusive to its own consoles, can other studios fill the spot?
While the answer to that question is yet to be determined, Siliconera decided to find out more about Oceanhorn in wake of its remastering for PC, and creative director Heikki Repo was more than happy to chat. He speaks about how Oceanhorn might be better compared to Landstalker, his interest in bringing it to consoles, and further details of how Oceanhorn was remastered for PC.
First off, how did Cornfox & Bros. form in the first place? Is Oceanhorn your first title?
Heikki Repo, creative director: Cornfox & Bros. was founded in 2010. Our first released game was Death Rally (iOS/PC) which was developed by Cornfox, produced by Mountain Sheep, and published by Remedy Entertainment. Death Rally was a huge success and it has seen more than 15 million downloads to this date. With the success of Death Rally, we were able to fund the production of Oceanhorn.
Oceanhorn has an obvious point of comparison in the Zelda series. Was it always your intention to make a Zelda-like game? And if so, why?
When we founded our own company, we had an opportunity to reflect on what kind of games we want to make. I am huge fan of console adventure games and JRPGs, and my lifelong dream has been to create a game like Seiken Densetsu, Final Fantasy, or Zelda. I had this idea of an adventure game, set in a world that blends fantasy and technology, and that would circle around an ancient sea monster that would tirelessly hunt down the player. That’s when the idea of Oceanhorn was born.
The reason we chose a Zelda-like genre is because there just are not enough games in this genre, even though people would love to play more of them! Also, we were not completely satisfied where the genre was heading, so we wanted to give it a go and see what kind of game we would make. We wanted to create a game that would take the console-style adventure genre back to its roots! No more handholding or two hour glorified tutorials. No compass pointer that takes you through the maps. Jump to the game and play it however you want: explore the world at your own pace, enjoy a story that never tries to be anything it isn’t, and when the time comes, prepare to take on the epic bosses.
What differentiates Oceanhorn from the Zelda series – that is to say, what specifically is unique to the game?
There are lot of things in Oceanhorn that feels familiar for Zelda players and that is intentional, of course. When creating a game set in a certain genre you want to fill players expectations and Oceanhorn plays like you would expect from a game like this.
From a single screenshot people might miss judge Oceanhorn as a direct clone, but when you start playing Oceanhorn you will immediately feel its own spirit, and start to learn what makes it unique. It plays like one of the classics, but the gameplay happens in a real 3D world. The game is played from isometric camera angle, which is nothing like Zelda, but more like Landstalker, another ancestor of the genre.
We have a nice little Adventurer Rank-system in Oceanhorn that is unlike anything seen in this genre before. Adventurer Ranks are unlocked by taking on Challenges, which are like micro-quests for each island. The system, which is completely optional, encourages exploration and rewards the player constantly for playing and spending time with the game.
Another cool thing that I am excited about as a creator of Oceanhorn is the background story in the game. It is pretty unique and players will learn it little by little as they play through the game.
Why did you bring Oceanhorn to mobile before any other platform?
The answer is pretty simple: we were a mobile developer with mobile development background. We had done the Steam version of Death Rally, but at that point, the production of Oceanhorn was already well under way. Also, Oceanhorn became a much bigger game than what it was supposed to be in the beginning. At some point we saw that Oceanhorn might become a game that could fill the big screen.
You mentioned in a previous interview that you think bringing Oceanhorn to consoles might be a problem. How come?
I think this might be misunderstanding—we have always loved the idea of bringing Oceanhorn to consoles! So, quite the contrary, we would love to release Oceanhorn on consoles! We are looking into our options on console release at the moment, but there is nothing to announce on this matter.
Moving on to the PC version of Oceanhorn, what graphical changes and improvements have you issued?
We could get Oceanhorn running on PC very quickly and basically, after few weeks of work, you could play through the game on PC using controller. But when you ran the game on a 4K monitor, all the visual requirements for the remastered version became painfully obvious.
We started the process by opening up the view, taking the camera back, and adding FOV so players could see more of the level on their big screens. Next was the laborious part. We created high-polygon versions of all the assets in the game, and added new lighting and shader effects to make sure assets had enough detail. We added another layer of small objects to levels. Bushes and big blades of grass have small grass growing next to them. Tiny rocks, sticks, and flowers are scattered around the landscape. The world feels more alive with passing cloud shadows, flying butterflies, and real-time reflections on water. To make the overall lighting look better we added Soft Shadows and Ambient Occlusion.
All in all, the graphical overhaul of the remastered version took the major part of its 6+ months development time.
How do the controls work on PC? And what control options are you offering to players?
Oceanhorn offers control schemes for controller or mouse and keyboard. When we started to make the PC version, controller was the first thing that worked because the iOS version had controller support. But we knew from the beginning that the game needed to have excellent mouse and keyboard controls. It was a challenge, and little by little, the pieces started to fall into their places. I was surprised that mouse and keyboard controls became my favorite way of playing Oceanhorn on PC as I have always been more of a console gamer!
One more thing. If you are a laptop player, stuck with mediocre touchpad, there is a way to play Oceanhorn only with the keyboard!
Outside of the graphics and controls, have you reworked Oceanhorn for PC in any other ways?
We wanted to make a remastered version of the game, instead of just a simple port. We listened what reviewers and players had to say about the game experience: where they got stuck, what felt unfair or where they were misinformed. That helped us add little hints here and there and make couple of puzzles easier and overall ensure quality experience through the game.
You’ve previously mentioned a desire to leave an editor in the game for players to mess around with. Will this ever appear? Or are you allowing for mods of any other ways for players to create content inside Oceanhorn?
Our ROC editor was very important part of Oceanhorn’s creation, it enabled us to create levels efficiently and test them immediately on the device itself, but it is still rough around the edges and relies on developers knowledge of what are important elements for each map. It would be very easy to allow players access to the editor itself, and to be honest, it would be amazing to see what modders would come up with it. We will have to think about it!
When it comes to other mods, I think modders who are interested in messing with the game always find a way, and I think it is relatively easy to mod Oceanhorn’s contents.